In the spring of 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. organized a demonstration in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Entire families attended. City police turned dogs and fire hoses on demonstrators. MLK was jailed along with large numbers of his supporters, but the event drew nationwide attention. However, King was personally criticized by black and white clergy alike for taking risks and endangering the children who attended the demonstration. From the jail in Birmingham, King eloquently spelled out his theory of non-violence:
“Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community, which has constantly refused to negotiate, is forced to confront the issue.”
By the end of the Birmingham campaign, MLK and his supporters were making plans for a massive demonstration on the nation’s capital composed of multiple organizations, all asking for peaceful change. On August 28, 1963, the historic March On Washington drew more than 200,000 people in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It was here that King made his famous I Have A Dream speech
“I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King, Jr. ‘s life had a seismic impact on the United States of America. Years after his death, he is the most widely known African-American leader. His life and work have been honored with today’s national holiday, streets, schools and public buildings named after him, and a memorial on Independence Mall in Washington, D.C. Yet, his life remains controversial as well. In the 1970s, FBI files, released under the Freedom of Information Act, revealed that he was under government surveillance, and revealed his adultry. Over the years, extensive archival studies have led to a more balanced and comprehensive assessment of his life, portraying him as a complex figure: flawed, fallible and limited in his control over the mass movements with which he was associated, yet a visionary leader who was deeply committed to achieving social justice through nonviolent means.
“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.”